Report by Ian Grant
Y'know, there was a time not so very long ago when writing one of these reports
involved little more that topping and tailing the handful of noteworthy incidents
with a few bits of my usual waffle. It seems that those days are gone - you
could write a book about this game, such was the richness and potency of
football on offer.
When Chris Salter, Puerto Rican Hornet, visited these shores last season,
he appeared surprised at the praise that greeted a performance against Preston
that was merely marginally better than average. Our standards have fallen
in recent times. But some of our football in this match was simply sensational,
the finest seen at Vicarage Road since Graham Taylor's heyday. The transformation is extraordinary. Even someone like me, someone who spends most
of his time sounding notes of caution, is forced to rummage around for superlatives
when faced with such quality. The only possible quibble is that we still lack that ruthless, murderous streak that
would have produced a scoreline that didn't flatter Brentford.
The pre-match atmosphere was confident, yet no-one could have anticipated a
breath-taking first half. Early Watford pressure, including corners and
long throws, presumably explained the presence of Keith Millen in the penalty
area as Tommy Mooney's cross was headed back across goal for the defender to volley home
after just four minutes.
Yet that riotous start didn't dampen our enthusiasm. We continued to hurtle
forward, using the full width of the pitch to attack with truly incisive purpose,
and the second goal arrived after another seven minutes. Richard Johnson
hurled a flat, long throw into the box (a remarkable skill, actually - most long throws
are wobbly, loopy things, whereas this had the same pace and trajectory as a
decent cross) and it was flicked on by Ronny Rosenthal for Lars Melvang to bounce a header into the top
corner. An awesome start - on so many occasions, our anticipation has been
disappointed by the team; this time, kickoff was like pulling the pin from a
The stage was set for the rest of the half, punctuated by occasional lapses
into over-confidence, dominated entirely by Watford, made memorable by frequent
moments of astounding brilliance. Brentford were falling apart as the match threatened to turn into a
rout. David Thomas wasted a chance, slashing wide when unmarked; Micah Hyde saw
a fierce effort saved by the keeper at his near post. All Brentford could
manage was a poor free kick over the bar.
If all of this sounds like the kind of intense bombardment that saw us put
six past Grimsby a couple of seasons back, then that's misleading. This is
direct football but only in the sense that every pass is forward-thinking -
there's little of the aerial hit-and-hope that outsiders would love to hold
against us. Indeed, some of this was total pass-and-move genius. Hence the
most pleasurable moment of the season so far, a through ball from Peter Kennedy
that glided like an ice skater past the foot of a helpless defender and into the
path of Rosenthal.
And hence the move that led to Rosenthal winning a penalty late in the half. To
sighs of ecstasy from the assembled ten thousand, Watford conjured up the kind
of magic that we've spent the last decade day-dreaming about. Stuart Slater
stepped in front of a Brentford player to win possession, made progress across
the field, exchanged passes with Rosenthal then sent the striker through on goal.
Reduced to mere dynamics, it sounds so simple - yet in that simplicity was
measured, controlled perfection. After Rosenthal was brought down (to be honest, having seen it on TV, I'm not
particularly convinced that the defender didn't win the ball), Slater missed the
spotkick as if to restore some sort of continuity with Old Watford.
The second half was more frantic, offering less in the way of elegance and more in the
way of blind panic as Brentford recovered to play a more threatening role
in the proceedings. The early signs - a header and a shot, both narrowly wide
of Alec Chamberlain's goal - suggested that our failure to kill off the game might
come back to haunt us.
However, with Richard Johnson growing in stature after a first half spent
midfield minesweeping, we continued to look dangerous. A succession of quite
wondrous passes out to Kennedy on the left were yet another reminder that the
Australian deserves far more than the meagre amount of recognition he
currently receives. How often has a Watford winger stood alone and unnoticed
on the touchline? How often have we prayed for a midfielder capable of rising
above the hustle and bustle to find that winger and open up the play? How long
until people stop saying that Richard Johnson can't pass?
Anyway, one of our many forays down the left saw Kennedy supply a fine cross
into the six yard box to be diverted past the keeper from close range by Micah
Hyde. But the linesman's flag cut the celebrations short and prolonged our
wait for that decisive goal.
The nerves were starting to jangle, at least partly thanks to our new style
of play. One suspects that they'll be issuing tranquilisers at the turnstiles
before the end of the season - our response to Brentford's increasingly frantic
attacks was to raise the tempo still further. Thus the final half an hour was
played at an insane end-to-end pace - things sure as hell ain't dull round our
way these days...
The award of a penalty to Brentford - and I'd be fascinated to know what
offence was committed as the corner came over - really put the cat among the
pigeons. Chamberlain was coolly sent the wrong way and Brentford, unbelievably,
were back in the game. Shortly afterwards a striker sent an overhead kick
inches wide as visions of all our first half work going to waste started to loom
Fortunately, the double substitution of Steve Palmer and Wayne Andrews for
Melvang and Thomas seemed to settle everyone down a little bit. In particular,
it gave us another way of hurting the already shell-shocked Brentford
defence - within a few minutes of coming on, Andrews had roared past two
opponents and forced a save at full stretch from the keeper.
Still that goal wouldn't come. A Johnson 'cross' (if you've ever wondered,
Johnno crosses like he shoots) was sent wide by Slater's instinctive reaction;
Mooney deflected a corner onto the outside of the post. And all the time
there was the threat of a Brentford breakaway...
As injury time approached, the third goal finally arrived. Clearly the
Brentford players hadn't been paying attention when shown the video of
our trip to Carlisle, since they were perfectly happy to allow Johnson plenty
of time and space to pick his spot from twenty-five yards out. His shot,
struck sweetly and accurately, bounced in front of the keeper and hit the back
of the net to seal our victory.
Our failure to win this game by a more convincing margin shouldn't be allowed
to disguise the fact that Brentford spent much of the afternoon being comprehensively
out-played. This is a Watford squad of extraordinary quality for the Second
Division - and, perhaps more importantly, the class acts it contains appear to want to
perform at this level. The mid-winter mud may change their minds, of course...
Personally, I can forget the league position and the winning run and all that.
This wasn't a match that needed a context; this was just joyous, radiant football. I
left Vicarage Road with a smile on my face and, after last week, that's really
Report by Nick Grundy
Who, trivia fans, is Watford Football Club's top scorer this
season? One of our crop of fantastic new strikers? One of our youth
internationals? Nope. Richard bloody Johnson, that's who, and on
Saturday, yet again, he was a total hero. Not merely for another
cracking goal from distance which secured the win for us when we were
struggling a bit, or for his "battling" qualities which are nonetheless
looking more refined game by game, but also for an attacking display
which was thoughtful, penetrating and above all controlled.
My man-of-the-match, then? Yup. And I'm sorry to go on and on
about how wonderful he is (am I bollocks!) but I reckon he won us the
game on Saturday. Yes, we should have won about 8-0; yes, the ref denied
us a couple of goals through his total ineptitude; and yes, he also gifted
them a penalty, but the fact is at 2-1 up we started to look shaky in
defence and more than a little wasteful in attack. After they had
scored, we (quite rightly) tried to carry on playing as we had
first half. The trouble was, we kept giving the ball away. One spell
late in the game comes to mind, when we broke into their half and a
beautiful twenty-yard pass from Johnno found Kennedy breaking down the
left. His cross was cleared - to Johnno, who then put it out right for
Slater. He got the ball another four or five times in this one
attacking period, and each time he found a teammate with it and
initiated another attack. Then, when they lost the ball, it just seemed
to come back to him, sometimes because he physically won it from a
Brentford player and sometimes just because he was very well placed.
His goal is another example of this. He picked the ball up 25
or so yards out, and when the Brentford players hung off him a little,
he took it forward a pace or two, and smashed a shot low and hard right
into the bottom corner of Dearden's net. I have to admit, I didn't
think it was going in, but I bet you any money you like Kevin Dearden
thought it was, and it was going so bloody fast he couldn't get down to
it in time. I don't reckon it bobbled, or that he was particularly at
fault for the goal - it just looked very well struck indeed. Having
said that, I'll probably get home tonight, watch the video of the
Nationwide Highlights thingy and see I'm totally wrong, but hey!
Anyway, I'll go back to the start now. We lined up with what
looked like (and eventually played like) 4-4-2 - Tommy Mooney was pushed
out to left back, and Kennedy up to an ordinary attacking
midfield/winger role, and the same with Melvang and Slater on the right.
And it worked like a dream. We scored twice in the first twelve
minutes, both from crosses. The first was flicked on from the left by
Dai Thomas and volleyed home by Keith "Forward" Millen, and the second
flicked on from the right by Ronny Rosenthal for Lars "Forward" Melvang
to head in. One of them may have been from a corner - I can't honestly
remember - but the facts that a) we've got a system flexible enough for
our defenders to get into the box from open play and b) we're scoring
from corners are Good Signs.
Other good signs are the quality of our passing and attacking
play. There was a long-ball game on display at Vicarage Road on
Saturday, but it sure as hell wasn't from us (Chris Waddle please note).
Our play from defence through midfield to the wings was, given last
season's efforts, little short of astonishing. On the left, especially,
Kennedy was on song. Move of the match has to go Mooney winning the
ball in defence and passing up to Rosenthal. He then makes to take the
ball infield (taking the full back with him), and backheels it for
Kennedy to pick up and go down the line. Absolutely bloody wonderful.
Less wonderful was the referee. I thought he had quite a good
first half, one absolutely horrendous late two-footed, studs-showing,
from behind challenge on Johnson excepted, but second half he was
woeful. He rapidly lost control of the game - Millen in particular
seemed to get hacked or hit every time the ball came into our box and he
did nothing about it. Ijah Anderson, at left back for Brentford, was
either bodychecking Slater or trying to undress him every time he got
near him, and should have been booked for three or four hideously
dangerous tackles. And, I'm afraid, Micah Hyde should probably have
been sent off for punching as well. Of course he was provoked, and of
course if the ref had done anything at all about the level of violence
beforehand he probably wouldn't have lashed out, but he did take a swing
at someone, and was very fortunate to stay on the field.
Encouragingly, though, we didn't let Brentford's crass thuggery
and footballing ineptitude hamper our play. We had more chances in that
game than in any three I can think of from last season (any 40 if you
take Gillingham or Notts County at home). Rosenthal, having surged
through the middle, squared it when better placed himself; Dai Thomas,
having shown typical disregard for his own personal safety in
challenging for another hospital ball, set up chances for Slater and
Hyde which they could have done better with; a Johnson blast across the
face of goal was turned just wide by Slater; Mooney and Johnson
attempted to take various Brentford players heads off with long range
efforts; Slater missed a penalty; Andrews came on for Thomas and created
three or four good chances for himself; and Micah Hyde saw a goal
disallowed thanks to some linesmanning which was on a par with the
And then he gave Brentford a penalty for no reason I can fathom.
I'm suspicious of it although it was at the Rookery end (and so a long
way away) principally because a) I didn't see any Brentford players
appeal and b) Melvang was the player who went down in the box, not the
Brentford guy he was tussling with. Anyway, Robert Taylor scored it and
Brentford had their best spell of the match.
But Johnno brought us through relatively unscathed, and I left
thinking about how different the game was last season, when it took a
Nigel Gibbs cross to secure the three points and the game, while
exciting in the context of the season, was not a patch on this one. So,
the same margin of victory as last year, but a team which looks an awful
lot better and an awful lot more able. We're going to score a lot of
goals this season, and if we play as we did on Saturday I can't imagine
many teams will score more against us than we do against them.
There is some bad news, though - we won't be breaking any league
records for consecutive draws this year. Never mind, eh?